I recently called out a dear, longtime friend for being sexist. He is a smart, educated professional who attended the Women’s March — both of them — and has been a stalwart supporter of women’s rights. The other day, in a conversation with a mutual friend who is having dating issues, he happened to mention that there are tons of women of a certain age who are “desperate” for men. Yes, he used the word “desperate,” the implication being that women who are no longer in the flower of youth will settle for anything. These women are out there for the picking.
Pre #MeToo, I would have silently viewed this comment as typical male nonsense and avoided the confrontation by ignoring the offensive claim. But since November 2016, I have been in “call-out” mode. Giving a pass to comments like these no longer feels like a kindness, an act of patience or understanding. Passivity instead feeds the machine of bias and hate that has blown into the wind with accelerated aggressiveness since the last presidential run.
So I called this friend out. I did so explicitly and directly. I told him his remark was sexist and he was engaging in a form of sexual harassment. He supported his remark with vague, anecdotal references to a few educated, self-supporting friends with Miss America-looks who have not been able to make a match despite searching under every rock. I pointed out that women of that age are more likely to be socially and financially independent. They are not searching for father-figures for their potential children or for themselves. They can be choosy. Desperation or Discernment? If we are going with anecdotes, I’m sure we can all name plenty of desirable women who meet men all the time but are selective regarding long-term relationships. At the same time, I know just as many single men of that age who are struggling to find a woman who is willing to partner with them long term.
My mother had issues with a lot of Trump’s offensive utterings but when the “Access Hollywood” tape came out, she shrugged it off. “That’s all men,” she said.
Still, I felt bad about calling my friend a sexist. I really did. After all, in his own typical fashion, he was just trying to boost the confidence of a friend. And of all the men I know, he probably has the most impressive record of actively supporting women’s rights. Didn’t his admirable history and good intentions mean I should give him a pass?
In a recent New York Times interview, Uma Thurman talks about her harassment via Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Her story is fairly emblematic of the kinds of harassment a majority of women have experienced in numerous other contexts. As we now know, many people were aware of Weinstein’s serial harassment but no one said or did anything to stop it. Like Thurman, women often find themselves alone, hanging by a thread if they want to confront their harasser.
When we confront harassers, it isn’t for a political movement or to create social change, though that would be nice! It is for self-preservation. My mother had issues with a lot of Trump’s offensive utterings but when the “Access Hollywood” tape came out, she shrugged it off. “That’s all men,” she said. “I have been harassed. You’ve been harassed. And the next generation of women will be harassed. He’s no different from any other man.”
Many women are led to believe that sexual harassment is a fact of life and — perhaps more significantly — that men cannot take responsibility because harassment is baked into the fiber. Demanding an end to sexual harassment would be a futile call for men to go against their nature, the logic goes. Therefore, we have to give men a pass. We’re supposed to accept that sexual harassment is a nasty eventuality.
The erroneous notion that men harass by nature has been passed down with a wink and a nod from mothers to daughters for eons. Verbal sexual harassment and women’s soft reaction to it is a legacy that must be stopped.Does that mean that women must, in brutal pitchfork fashion, call out every man who utters an offhand and inadvertently sexist comment? You bet. Will some men react defensively? Probably. But the really smart ones will see the call out as a window to understanding the social machinery of notions, language and behaviors that have caused women to suffer silently. These smart men must lead their less receptive brothers to the realization that just because sexist language and ideas have been embedded in our collective discourse, that doesn’t make it right or mean that enlightened people need to continue a tradition of victimization.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that women hire themselves lawyers and engage in legal battles in reaction to every verbal offense but, in our day-to-day lives, we want to arm ourselves with well-chosen, direct language without regard to how those words sting or injure.The time for giving a pass to even an unintentionally offensive remark is over. Part of #MeToo is opening our mouths and speaking up when we see harassment at play. All men — even the nice, supportive ones — are on notice. No passes moving forward.
#MeToo #TimesUp #CallOut #NoPasses.
Photo credit: Miguel Bruna,